Monday, December 22, 2008

ON THE SECOND NIGHT OF ...

Tonight’s treat is Cuchidati—Sicilian fig cookies.

THE STORY BEHIND MY FIG COOKIES

In the 1980s, I lived in a 1903 Victorian house in Brooklyn.

One of my next door neighbors was Joe, a man in his seventies, who was born in Sicily.

He was a terrific gardener, cook and baker. Despite the fact that I wasn’t Italian Joe was determined to teach me how to cook like a proper Sicilian wife.

He shared his recipes, demonstrated techniques and sometimes peered from his living room window into my kitchen when I was cooking to make sure I did it right.

Imagine my surprise the first time my phone rang and Joe’s voice on the other end said, “needs more salt.”

Every fall, Joe would bring me a small plate of his fabulous Cuchidati. Fresh from the oven, they smelled as good as they tasted and disappeared in a flash.

One October when I was having a cup of tea with Joe, I asked if he had any cuchidati. He answered, “No, but it’s time you learned to make them.”

Minutes later I was up to my elbows in flour while Joe chopped figs and nuts with an oak-handled knife. He taught me to knead the dough, the way his mother had taught him to do it.

More than 20 years have passed since the day I learned to make fig cookies. Nowadays, I cheat and use a food processor.

CUCIDATA
(Sicilian Fig Cookies)

I always make 3 orders of filling and 2 orders of dough. This makes about 125 cookies. It sounds like a lot but once you try them, you’ll realize it’s rarely enough. The cookies keep well but are a bit fragile for shipping.

Filling
1/2 cup dried black figs, stems removed
1/2 cup dried currents
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cocoa
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
2 tablspoons fresh orange zest
Splash of sweet sherry or port
1/4 cup honey

Put all ingredients, except the honey in the bowl of a food processor and chop finely. Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in honey. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.

Pastry
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
A few drops of whole milk

Put flour, baking powder and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and mix well. Add butter and process, then add egg and a few drops of milk. Dough should be very firm (like a pie crust), but if it’s downright stiff, add a few more drops of milk. Divide dough in three pieces, and pat each one into a rectangle. Wrap each piece in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll one rectangle out slightly, then put one third of the filling along one long edge of rectangle. Fold dough to cover filling. If you have extra dough, cut it off and re-roll. Press lightly to seal seam, then place seam side down on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat for other 2 rectangles.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until slightly browned, then cool on a rack or wooden cutting board. Use a serrated bread knife to cut each roll into slices. Wash the knife frequently to prevent sticking.

Try one and say thanks to Joe.

14 comments:

TattingChic said...

What a sweet memory of that neighbor! He sounds like a character, but what fabulous cooking and baking skill you must have now because of that! Thank you for sharing that fabulous recipe!

GeorgiaPeachez said...

OMG, this recipe sounds divine. I love anything with figs in it. xo, suzy

Scrappy Jessi said...

aaahhh this is a lovely story.
your so lucky to have such an incrdible neighbor. these cookies look fabulous!!

merry christma

oxooxx,
jessi

Tara said...

Oh my gosh, copied this right away...my Mom is Italian and from Brooklyn--Park Slope to be exact---and, of course, I needed to copy this recipe to show her!

Thanks!
Tara

Cathy said...

Barbara,

I knew those looked familiar. I'm 1/2 Sicilian. My grandmother used to bake these. OMG!!! They are soooooo good.

We also made another pastry that no else I've ever spoken with has ever seen or heard of it. It is called "Pithencusa". It's almost impossible to describe and it took us several days to prepare and cook.

Ever heard of it?

Happy Holidays,

xo Cathy

NeereAnDear said...

Oh my goodness.... wonder if I am related to JOE LOL my family was from Sicily too and lived in Brooklyn .... my dads name was JOE LOL

Those cookies look fantastic.... I will have to try to make some of these after the Holiday is over but I am definitely going to keep them...

Making Bettys today if my foot allows me to stand long enough to do it

Dont have the ingredients for the other

HUGS TO YOU

JO

Barbara Jacksier said...

Hi Cathy

I know that Sicily was originally called Pithencusa, but have never heard of a desert called by that name. What's in it and how do you make it.

Have you found www.cookiesfromitaly.com/recipes/ ?

It's a great site for Sicilian recipes.

Ruth Welter said...

That is a lovely story Barbara...

I wanted to stop by and wish you a wonderful holiday.

Ruth

NeereAnDear said...

Oh my Barbara... I am going to have to check out that website... thanks for the link... I am full blood but you wouldnt know it by the way I cook sometimes.....

HUGS

JO

Melissa said...

What a great memory and recipe to share. Thanks for stopping by my blog...apparently my email reply bounced back to me so I googled you and found this...what a treasure. May you and your family have a joyous and safe new year.

CIELO said...

Dear Barbara: Merry Christmas and warm wishes from our house to yours.

cielo

ITALIAN PEASANT said...

HI, I RAN INTO YOUR BLOG, I'M ALSO A WRITER & AM CURRENTLY WRITING A DECORATING BOOK. YOUR SICILIAN CUCHIDATIS ARE CALLED COUCHENEATS (SPELLING WRONG)IN THE CENTRAL PART OF ITALY :)I NEVER HAVE LIKED THEM, I MAKE PIZZELLES INSTEAD :)

Angela (Cottage Magpie) said...

What a great memory to share! And those cookies look fantastic, which is amazing since I don't usually go for fig. But I'm going to have to try these! Anyway, I just stopped by to say Merry Christmas! Hope you have a great holiday.
~Angela :-)

Enchanted Treasures said...

Thanks for sharing Barbara! figs, nuts, what's not to love? I'll try them for the New Year.
Happy Holidays
xo Roberta